Personhood: The Pro-Life Movement's Ultimate Goal
The bedrock principle of the pro-life movement - that all preborn babies are "persons" and all innocent people share the inalienable right to life - is the benchmark against which pro-lifers must evaluate any strategy to protect preborn children.
What is Personhood?
What is personhood and why is it so foundational to the pro-life movement? Put simply, a "person" is a human being who is fully protected under the law; and we use the legal term "personhood" to describe this condition. Once a human being is declared a person, that individual is guaranteed certain legal rights.
To better understand personhood, we begin by asking the fundamental question of when human life begins. Embryological science has made crystal clear that, in sexual reproduction, human life begins at fertilization: the union of an egg and sperm resulting in a unique, genetically distinct human being. The answer to the question of when human life begins is a biological one.
The follow-up question is: "Is this tiny embryonic human being a ‘person' who is guaranteed the right to life?" In other words, should human beings be protected in law as persons; as citizens upon whom full constitutional protections (due process, equal protection, etc.) should confer? The answer to the question of personhood is a political/legal one. Once a human being is declared to be a legal person, there simply can be no exceptions to his or her inalienable right to life; just as there are no exceptions to our right to life.
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After thirty-five years of abortion on demand in America, the pro-life movement is losing patience with an incremental legislative approach that simply manages the slaughter of our preborn brothers and sisters. Restoring personhood to the preborn child, with respect to the right to life and without exception, would oblige states to ban all abortions - a direct and necessary challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision.
With the U.S. Supreme Court's twin rulings in 1973, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolten, abortion on demand was forced down our nation's throat. But more fundamentally, the court denied the protection of personhood to those most in need of it- our tiny preborn brothers and sisters. Importantly, the Supreme Court never declared abortion itself to be a constitutional right. Rather, the Supreme Court said:
"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins...the judiciary at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."
Then, in the very text of the Roe v. Wade decision, the High Court made a key admission:
"[Texas] argues that the fetus is a ‘person' within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment...If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case (or Roe's case) collapses, for the fetus' right to life is then guaranteed by the 14th Amendment."
In other words, the Court recognized the power of personhood and that legal abortion would be impossible if personhood was applied to the unborn. But tragically, the state of Texas already had a statutory exception to abortion on their books (the so-called life of the mother exception) that completely undermined their personhood argument.
In his famous Footnote 54, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:
"When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other state are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists...But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother's condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment's command?"
In other words, the Court recognized that exceptions to legal personhood are illogical and, more importantly, unconstitutional. A person is a person is a person. Either you are a person, or you are not. Either the preborn child is a person, or he is not. There can be no exceptions to personhood.
The very text of the Roe v. Wade decision itself, then, contains the key to its own demise. It points the way to it own defeat. Statutorily vesting "personhood" at the moment of conception for every human being, without exception, state by state, would directly confront Roe and cause it to collapse upon itself. According to Judie Brown, president of American Life League, "Establishing personhood for the preborn child is the most fundamental step in reversing the decriminalization of abortion..."
For far too long, pro-lifers have limited themselves to protecting a life here and there - passing laws which slightly regulate abortion in the most outrageous cases. Legislative proposals that expressly deny the personhood of certain preborn children through exceptions for rape, incest, or the so-called life of the mother must be opposed. Politicians who support such exceptions cannot be called pro-life.
Instead of regulating the killing of preborn children, the pro-life movement must begin to focus on furthering the public's acceptance of the humanity and the personhood of the preborn child from the moment of fertilization without exception.
"A person's a person no matter how small."
Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss